Creativity: Cracking The Shell

Creativity springs forth from the inner desire to find and express purpose in life.

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. – Mark Twain

Traditional definition of Creativity: Creativity is a process of coming up with ideas that never existed before (Webster). More probably, it is tweaking something that already exists to come up with something new to you. As the great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) said, “A midget standing on the shoulder of a giant sees the further of the two.”

Creativity goes beyond the familiar and engages us in a process leading us to see and act in new ways. Creativity beckons change. Such a process can be maddening, lonely, humbling, and take us down many a blind alley.  As a kid I wanted to be a professional basketball player but was cursed with small hands and limited coordination that eventually taught me there are areas where I can never be creative.

Creativity is often found where individuals are willing to wrestle with doubts and fears more than it is dependent on a person’s talent. It can be threatening and intimidating in that it calls us to leave our comfort zone and wander into unexplored territory. It is risky because it pushes us beyond what we feel capable of doing and we have no idea what the outcome will be. And yet, regardless of our age, without creativity we do not live fully.

Our creativity may not be recognized by others. In high school I had the lead in the senior play. George Lucas was a student in the same high school. My creative acting went unrecognized, otherwise I would have been Luke Skywalker.

The American poet T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) boldly reminds us that failure is not hypothetical, it is a real possibility. Eliot, arguably the twentieth century’s most creative poet, wrote poems obsessed with all kinds of failure and creativity. It is said that his tumultuous marriage to Vivienne ruined him as a man and made him as a poet. Life’s drama can defeat us or serve as fuel for creative expression.

Eliot believed there are two key elements to creativity: 1) an incubation period when unconscious processing of existing ideas takes place, and 2) the removal of habitual inhibitions.

Incubation: Eliot believed his poetry had a mystical element akin to automatic writing where words seemed to flow from his pen bypassing his mind. He believed the words had been incubating for a period of time in his thoughts and emotions.  He famously said, “We do not know until the shell breaks what kind of egg we have been sitting on.”

Habitual Inhibitions: When the egg shell breaks it shatters strong habitual barriers that have long defined us and can easily be rebuilt. When we break a habitual shell we do not feel a positive pleasure, rather, Eliot observes, “There is a sudden relief from an intolerable burden…an outburst of words that we hardly recognize as our own.”

From “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”  by T.S. Eliot.

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create.

And time for all the works and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and “Do I dare?”

Do I dare           

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse

Eliot recognized the courage to draw creative inspiration can be found in the deep caverns of our lives. This inspiration is accompanied by the passion to create ourselves anew with all the inherent threats and promises. The more honest we are with ourselves the more we turn reflection into creation.

In this, the last stage of my life, I ask myself if is it worth trying to create again? Do I dare? Is there energy? Do I dare? And what if I fail? Time teaches all of us to live with failure. It has been part of my life, and, in reflection, normally a good part. At this old age should I ask the question what am I if I do not dare?

As with all my aging friends I need creativity, to do something new, to express myself in ways I never have.  I need creativity in my life. I have observed that when I make even a small change there is a ripple effect with many things changing in tandem.

One of the closest friends of my life, David, could have died this month.  He called me before entering the hospital for major cancer surgery and shared with me that he would “like to live 10-12 more years.” if it was not to be he had a wonderful almost eighty years. In the last few years David has created a new person. With a grandson he built an elaborate model train environment, shared ever evolving intimacy with his wife, learned to sit quietly each morning at 4:00 a.m., and even expressed his new found talent for art by drawing colored chalk designs on his sidewalk. He cracked the shell of habitual inhibitions and was born anew at age seventy-nine. And, oh yes, the surgery was successful.

David inspires me through finding new ways, even with age limitations, to creatively express the precious gift of life.

Creativity can become one with the stories of our lives.  I believe the words at the beginning of this article ring true: Creativity springs forth from the inner desire to find and express purpose in life.

Written by: Hartzell Cobbs

Hartzell Cobbs is the retired CEO of Mountain States Group (now Jannus, Inc.), a diverse nonprofit human service organization.  He is the author of the recent book, RavenWind, that is available through outlets such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Archway Publishing. His first book, Thanatos and the Sage: A Spiritual Approach to Aging, is available through Amazon.

More about Dr. Cobbs’ latest book, Ravenwind…

From ancient lore, down millenniums, traveling through worldwide mythologies, legends, and folktales, the mythical raven is entwined in the history of mankind. Most researchers agree that about twenty thousand years ago the first Americans came from Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge to what is now North America. The Siberians and their shamans were accompanied by the mythical raven who mediated between the physical and spiritual worlds.

With the Siberian influence, Northwest Native American mythology speaks of the raven as creator, destroyer, and trickster. As in Siberia, raven soars on the wind between the great spirit/mystery and the physical world. Raven teaches respect for earth and the oneness of all that is.

In RavenWind, author Hartzell Cobbs offers at look at the raven’s role in world history and in Native American myths, legends, and folktales. He tells how the raven of folklore calls one to follow, to listen, and experience life with all its complexity, insight, ambiguity, contraction, and humor. With an emphasis on Native American tradition, Cobbs explores the presence of mythical raven in the mundane.